Long before the pandemic started and we all became housebound for longer time spans, we were already spending a lot of our time online. In the past couple of decades we have gotten used to online services that help take care of our daily needs, everything from shopping to banking and more can be done online. We have user names, passwords, and other login info for all the sites that we use, and passwords have gotten increasingly complicated requiring upper case letters, lower case letters, numbers and symbols, oh my! Are all of these security measures enough to keep our information safe?
If our personal information falls into the wrong hands we might become a victim of phishing. Which can be followed by fraud and even identity theft! What’s phishing, you ask? It happens when cyber criminals pose as a legitimate institution and contact potential victims via email, telephone or a messaging platform, in order to lure them into providing data. They are looking for personal details, banking and credit card information and passwords. Some ways of phishing are super sneaky - did you know that by taking fun quizzes on social media platforms, you might be giving up precious personal information? Next time you see a fun post stating something like: “find out what your holiday name is by choosing your birth month, birth day and the year you were born”, think twice about answering! Besides avoiding silly social media quizzes, how else can we keep our private information private online?
Rule One: Consider What You Post Online Carefully.
Many of us are relying on social media to connect with our chosen community while we can’t meet friends or family in person during these difficult times. It is truly a blessing that we have this avenue of connection available! However, anything written online can last forever so consider your words carefully before posting and avoid sharing anything that you wouldn’t otherwise share publicly. Even when you’re sharing within a group, keep in mind that most online groups have varying degrees of privacy and anyone can always screenshot your words to display even after you’ve edited or erased them. Be sure to keep your personal information - your hometown, birthdate, phone number, address etc. - off of social media networks. It is a good idea to only friend or connect with people online that you actually know in real life.
Rule Two: Never Reply to Spam or Suspicious Emails.
Emails from the prince of a random country asking for a little money to help him out probably sets off everyone's alarm bells. What about the not-so-obvious emails we should watch out for? This can be tricky because cyber criminals are getting more and more sophisticated and emails are looking more and more realistic. Recently I have been getting emails that look like they are from Netflix asking me to update my account information or my account will be cut off. Oh no! Can’t live without Netflix! These emails have the Netflix logo, are “signed” by Netflix and have all the right language and the right look, coming from an email address that looks like an official Netflix address. However, they happen to be coming to one of my email addresses that is not associated with my Netflix account. Upon closer inspection and expanding the email address to show the full address that they are from - these emails are not from Netflix. You might receive similar emails, that look like they are from other companies like amazon, paypal, or even from banks or governments. Always check the full email address they are from closely and never click reply from an email and login to a site. If you need to check your account because an email says your information is out of date, go directly to the site and login in, rather than clicking a link in the email. This goes for messages that you receive via SMS, IM or social networking sites too. Do not reply to people you don’t know, especially if what they offer sounds too good to be true!
Rule Three: Don’t use Public WiFi to Pay Bills or Shop.
Do not send personal information anywhere when you are connected to public Wifi. This means no shopping or banking while you hang out at McDonalds or when you’re using your hotel’s wifi on vacation. Any information you input on a public wifi can be stolen by someone else on the same network.
Rule Four: Keep your Browsing as Secure as Possible.
Rule Five: Keep your Settings Up to Date.
Routinely check and update your social media privacy settings. Policies surrounding privacy on networks changes so be sure to have a glance at them once in a while - especially after you get one of those “we are updating our terms of service” messages that most of us ignore. Check that your profile is appropriately private and make sure to change your passwords on your accounts at least 3x a year.
Take care and stay safe!
P.S. I am not technologically very competent so if I got any of the lingo wrong, please forgive me!